They just barely beat the Bengals on a tip drill to Brandon Stokely before we know that we had to take the Bengals seriously, so that was no big deal. Then, they beat the Raiders and Browns by a total of 50-9, but those were the Raiders and Browns, teams that would struggle to go 8-8 if the other teams didn't show up to play them. So, again, no biggie. Then, they beat the Cowboys by a touchdown, but that was thought to be more about Dallas' horrible play calling late in the game. So, at 4-0, the Denver Broncos got no respect at all -- they were still thought to be eventual victims of their tumultuous preseason.
Now, after their 20-17 overtime win over the Patriots, in which Josh McDaniels beat mentor Bill Belichick, it's past time to disregard Cutlergate, and the lost first-round draft pick, and all the other ancillary drama, and recognize that the Broncos (pictured here rocking the unfortunate 1960 Copper Bowl throwbacks -- gah!) are indeed the AFC's best team -- in record and on the field. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan put together a brilliant series of schemes that forced the Patriots to dispense with their long passing game and go dink-and-dunk underneath (basically the gameplan McDaniels put together for Matt Cassel(notes) after Brady was lost for the 2008 season) while the Denver offense relied on heavy doses of rookie running back Knowshon Moreno(notes). Receivers Brandon Marshall(notes) and Eddie Royal(notes) carved up New England's improving but still vulnerable secondary, and Kyle Orton(notes) led Denver on a 12-play, 98-yard scoring drive halfway through the fourth quarter that tied the game at 17-all. In the overtime frame, Denver went 53 yards in 11 plays and ended the game with a 41-yard Matt Prater(notes) field goal. The Patriots never saw the ball outside of regulation.
There's no doubt that the Broncos could have handled their offseason better, and McDaniels did appear to have a little too much "Tom Cruise on Oprah" in him early in his time as a head coach. But we're now starting to see why Belichick, and the players McDaniels coached in New England, respect him so much. That excellence has transferred to the Mile High City (add in a healthy dose of respect for the work Nolan's doing), and that's why the Broncos are a fluke-free 5-0.
If you've missed the show, don't worry -- the Broncos face the Chargers on Monday Night Football next week.